I remember having to memorize Hamlet’s speech to the players during my first year acting class at Penn State. Good old Will Shakespeare. Acting and public speaking lessons from 1603 still true today.
Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to
you, trippingly on the tongue: but if you mouth it,
as many of your players do, I had as lief the
town-crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air
too much with your hand, thus, but use all gently;
for in the very torrent, tempest, and , as I may say,
the whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget
a temperance that may give it smoothness.
I recently had the pleasure of attending and participating in an evening of readings. As Norman Corwin told me once, storytelling is “the oldest of the arts.” It was so enjoyable to listen to poems and stories. In everyday life we constantly interrupt each other in a continuous dialogue existing selfishly the present tense. But, most of us gather together and are rendered mute by the television in the evening. We miss the old time art of storytelling and of listening. I enjoyed both last week.
My participation in this evening of writers reading original works was to read part of my introduction to Memos to a New Millennium: The Final Radio Plays of Norman Corwinthat I edited, followed by an except from Norman’s play The Secretariat. There is a simple joy to reading in public for me. I am always comfortable in front of an audience (as opposed to one-on-one at a cocktail party where I am typically rendered shy and mute). I began reading my introduction, ironically, quoting Norman Corwin: “The word had authority. Ideas had authority.” As simple and powerful and opening line as a public speaker could ask for.
I concluded by reading a portion of The Secretariat from 1997 that Norman had originally written for actor Eddie Albert, who wanted something by Corwin to read on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1969. Norman told me that at the time he was very busy and had no time to think of something to write for his friend. But Eddie kept calling and prodding. One night, Norman recounted, he was getting ready for bed and emptying out his pockets. He looked at the money he had just placed on the dresser. He read the words “In God We Trust.” We print your name on dollars. He had the first line. The rest flowed freely. It was called Prayer for the 70s.
We print your name on dollars
And are sure you stand over everything we say is under God
And all nations assume you are on their side and always have been,
war in and war out,
And every religion understands you better than every other religion,
and you in turn lean towards each with special inclinations.
From there the poem tackles the long, often bloody, relationship of man to God, and vice-versa. He finally concludes that God should “flex the muscle of divine authority to get back in office” and perform a new, superlative miracle:
And this is what that miracle would be:
That man should love his kind in all his skins and pigments,
And kill no more.
That we should love our kind
And kill no more.
Yes, granted, such a miracle is asking very much of you
But it is long past time to ask.
I’m just saying…